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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy Nowruz to my Iranian friends!

"Give me wings of freedom so I can fly,
  I wanna fly high. I wanna soar.
 Give me wings of freedom or let me die,
 I wanna touch the sky. I wanna soar!"
       (The Rose of Nowruz)

March 20 marks the first day of Spring and the official beginning of the Persian New Year for my Iranian friends. "Nowruz" or literally, "new day," is the title of the Spring Festival that ushers in the beginning of another year in the Persian calendar. Rooted in the rich history of the Zoroastrian religion, Nowruz is a the cherished time of Spring renewal, which includes eating and celebrating with families. In preparation, Iranians busily engage in house cleaning and shopping for clothes to look their best for the great new year's event. One of the central features of Nowruz is the Haft Seen Table. Iranians erect a small table in their home and according to tradition place items on the table that begin with the letter "S." 
Sabez, (lentil sprouts) are placed in a dish of water, symbolizing rebirth. Sib (apples) are placed next on the table which symbolizes, beauty and health. Samanu ( tasty pudding) is added to the table, symbolizing affluence. Serkeh, (vinegar) is added to the table, symbolizing, old age and patience. Sir (garlic) is a very important addition, symbolizing medicine for healing. Senjed, (wild olive fruit) symbolizing love, and finally Somaq is placed on the table symbolizing the color of sunrise.
The Haft Seen Table is rich in symbolism and sets the mood for the beginning of the Persian New Year. 
Last year, I published a very important book to bring awareness to the Western world about the struggle of my Iranians friends for human rights and freedom. "The Rose of Nowruz, dreams of hope and freedom," is the story of a young concert violinist named Bahareh who lives in Tehran.
The beautiful red rose was Bahareh's favorite flower and she composes a song about a rose as the symbol of freedom during the Nowruz celebration. Desperate to see her friends have freedom from an oppressive government, Bahareh can no longer be silent and becomes a human rights activist in the heart of the Islamic republic of Iran.
Since the publication, I have had the incredible privilege of sending the pdf files of my book to my friends in Iran including several human rights groups in Canada.
1393, (Persian calendar) marks the official start of the Persian New year. But, what can my Iranian friends expect this year? What kind of hope do they have? Will they see an end to the oppression and fear? Will they finally realize their hopes and dreams?
1393 begins with Hassan Rouhani as the new president in Iran. During the election last year, he campaigned as a "moderate" promising some social and economic freedoms, but his track record thus far is anything but "moderate." Since becoming president, executions have spiked, over 687 prisoners were put to death last year. Political activists, human rights defenders, journalist and bloggers, are still behind bars, being punished for speaking out and forced to keep silent.
Campaigning as a "moderate" assured Rouhani of a victory and prevented a repeat of the violence in the last election and once again gave The Islamic Republic control of its people!
In spite of the failed promises of Rouhani, my dear Iranian friends gaze at their "haft seen " tables looking for hope and freedom. They celebrate in the midst of a society that deprives them of their basic human rights to dress, speak and believe as they choose.
This year I decorated my Facebook page with pictures of Haft seen tables and did a special radio program celebrating the new year with them. I was supposed to be a guest at the home of one of my dear Iranian friends via Skype for the start of Nowruz, but internet problems prevented that cherished event from happening. So instead, I put the picture of her table on my timeline and dedicated my page to her!
My friends in Iran are the most precious friends in the world to me! My blogs and my books are all about them! They are the focus and passion of my life.
This is my New Year's prayer for them:

"My dear friends in Iran."
  I pray that your new year is filled with peace, prosperity and freedom! As you gather together with your families this year and sit before your haft seen tables, please don't forget that I am thinking of you and praying for you.
I am praying that God will give you the desires of your heart and that your dreams and visions of the future will one day be finally realized. I am praying that one day you will have a free Iran where you can walk down the streets without fear of being monitored, without fear of being stopped because of the way that you dress. 
I am praying for the day that you can believe as you choose, that you can speak your mind without fear and imprisonment.
I am praying for the day that you will have true freedom. I believe that day will come, my dear Iranian friends. I know that God hears the cries of your hearts. Your lives are precious to Him. He will deliver you from all fear and oppression. I wanted to leave you with a promise from the Bible describing that day of freedom that I have spoken to you about.

" I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, God's home is now among his people. He will live with them and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All

these things are gone forever. 
And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look I am making everything new! And He said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true!"
                                    (Revelation 21: 3-5)


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Oh how He loves us!"

"He is jealous for me.
 Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
 bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy..."

I have the honor and privilege of regularly meeting on Skype with my Iranian friends to help teach them English. During the video chat, we read my books together and I am able to assist them in the correct pronunciation of words. We have a great time together. My friends will share with me the latest happenings in their lives, including their fears and frustrations of living under the oppression of the Islamic Regime.
Just recently, my dear friend who lives in Mashhad (her name withheld for security reasons) told me a very sad story of her early childhood in Iran. Women are required to wear a hijab whenever they go out publicly. The Ghaste Ershad (morality police) daily patrol the streets of Iran looking for violators of the Islamic dress code. If a woman is not wearing her hijab correctly, or is showing too much skin and has too much make up on, she can be both fined and arrested.
My Iranian friend recalled a time in school as a child when the teacher warned her class that if a woman does not cover her head, that in the judgment, Allah would dangle her by the hair over the fires of hell!
The themes of fear, judgment, vengeance, are the constant themes I hear from my friends in Iran. They painfully describe to me how they were taught about who God is. I seldom ever hear them describe God as being loving and merciful.
Iranians are subjected to a distorted picture about who God is. When looking through the Quran, the theme of God's unconditional love for mankind is never found. Instead the Quran teaches that, "Allah loves not the transgressor," (Surah 2:190), that "Allah loveth not those who do wrong,"(Surah 3:57)
The reader is further informed that Allah loveth only those who do good deeds, "And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah and make not your own hands contribute to destruction, but do good, for Allah loveth those who do good," (Surah 2:195)
The conclusion is that Allah does not love the wayward sinner, but that He only loves those who consistently do good. His love is conditional, based on the person who keeps himself pure and clean and does what is right.
However when one reads the Bible, a completely different picture of who God is clearly emerges. The distorted picture of His character dissolves in the theme of His unconditional love.
From Genesis to Revelation, the reader is painted a picture of God who pursues His sinful covenant people with irresistible love. Instead of punishing and forsaking those who have broken His holy law, God reaches out to them with His arms of love and mercy.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love," (Jeremiah 31:3) is the cry from God's heart to His covenant people. His love is undeserved and freely given to a people who deserves judgment but instead receive His mercy!
In the New testament, the picture of God's love is made abundantly clear through Jesus. Jesus treated sinners with compassion and mercy. He once told the story of a man who owned a hundred sheep and when he discovered one of them missing, he searched the wilderness until he found the lost sheep. Once the lost sheep was found, Jesus said that the man joyfully carried the sheep back home on his shoulders. Then the man encouraged his neighbors to rejoice with him because he had found the lost sheep.
Jesus went on to explain that, "In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than the ninety others who have not strayed away!" (Luke 15:7)
The picture that Jesus painted of God's love is vastly different than the one painted by the Quran. God pursues the lost sheep with His irresistible love and then heaven throws a party when the sheep is finally found!
In direct contrast to the Quran's teaching that Allah does not love the transgressor, the Bible instead emphasizes God's unconditional and undeserved love. "But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners..(Romans 5:8)
God loves the sinner! This is the constant theme of the Bible. Instead of the distorted picture of a God of hatred and vengeance, the Bible paints a beautiful portrait of a God who never gives up on His people, who never forsakes them, but is constantly crying out for them to return to His mercy.
After I explained to my Iranian friend these wonderful Biblical truths about who God is, she agreed that this is the picture that she has always had of God, a picture of love and kindness.
"Oh how He loves us!" Knowing the unconditional love of God has transformed my life. Whenever I fail God and do things that dishonor Him, I cry out for His mercy and remember the beautiful lyrics to this powerful song by Jesus Culture, "Oh how He loves us."
If you
 have a distorted picture of who God is, pick up the Bible and read these Scriptures and allow His Holy Word to paint the real picture of who He is!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"No Escape from the Hangman's noose!"

Seven Reasons Why I Should Die
By Hashem Shaabani
For seven days they shouted at me:
You are waging war on God!
On Saturday, they said it’s because you’re Arab
On Sunday, Well, you’re from Ahvaz
On Monday: Remember that you are Iranian
Tuesday: You mock the Holy Revolution
Wednesday: Didn’t you raise your voice to help others?
Thursday: You are a poet and a bard
Friday: You are a man. Isn’t this reason enough to die?

Iran's Beloved poet, Hashem Shaabani, could not escape the hangman's noose. His crime? Voicing his opinion, speaking out against the repression of ethnic Arabs by the Islamic regime in Iran. Since the regime sees itself as "God's representative on earth," there is no freedom of speech or disagreement. A person's fate is sealed when he or she publicly criticizes the government.
I remember one of the most dramatic scenes I ever witnessed in a movie was the powerfully painful execution scene in, "Braveheart."
The Scottish freedom fighter, William Wallace, is brought before the English Magistrate and tried for high treason and condemned to public torture and beheading.Wallace refuses to beg for mercy and submit to the king. The magistrate implores him one last time to beg for mercy but instead Wallace screams the word, "Freedom" and is promptly beheaded.
Just this morning, sitting at my computer, I witnessed my first public execution! This time it wasn't a movie, but real life!
A young man, with his wrists tied, and surrounded by two executioners wearing masks, stood on a platform facing a bright spotlight in the early morning hours right before dawn in an undisclosed location in Iran.
The two filmmakers can be heard discussing amongst themselves what this man must be feeling as he is being prepared to have a noose fitted around his neck.
Then suddenly the victim begins to cry out for his mother, begging to see her for the last time. I could hear the frightening wail of the mother in the audience begging to hug her son for the last time. But her demands fall on deaf ears. The executioners refuse this man's last request.
In desperation, the prisoner pushes over the stool he will stand on to be executed. Then in a frenzied moment he kicks the men surrounding him, trying his best to escape the fate that awaits him. Finally several other men rush to the platform and subdue the prisoner. They assist him upon the stool, tie the noose around his neck and then quickly pull it out from beneath him. He struggles for a brief few seconds, dangling helplessly in the air and then dies.
I will never forget the haunting sounds that followed. Cheers and praises from the audience, not delighting in the execution, but rather expressing their relief that his soul can finally rest and he is no longer suffering.
I sat at my computer, silently weeping, numb from what I just witnessed. I felt guilty that I could not say or do something to prevent this horrible tragedy. The painful reality of what his mother just witnessed gripped my soul with feelings of grief and outrage. Then I remembered the last death cry made by William Wallace in Braveheart, "Freedom!"
Unfortunately there is no freedom for Iranians. Since Iran's new President, Hassan Rouhani took office last August, there have been over 385 executions. There were at least 500 in 2013, 57 of them publicly and in the beginning of this year 85. The government has become relentless in cleansing the political prisoner population. These helpless prisoners suffer from serious health problems while in prison without any intervening medical aid. They are not given any proper representations or fair trials and spend sometimes years enduring daily torture before finally being executed!
After witnessing my first public execution, I am now more committed than ever, to continue speaking out and praying for these victims of injustice. To watch another human being dangling helplessly in the air with a noose around his neck, is horrifying and demands a response, an outage against injustices. I cannot just sit by and be silent. 
I have included the video of what I saw on my blog. I challenge you to watch it. It is graphic! It will forever change your life and you will never be the same. If after watching it, you decide to become a voice for these helpless victims than that is good! This is what the Bible commands us to do,

"Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
 Ensure (make certain) justice for those being crushed."
                     (Proverbs 31:8)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"Be our voice for freedom."

Always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed- no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull.” 
― George Orwell1984

Can you imagine living in a society where your every move and thought was monitored by the government?
 George Orwell's frightening novel,1984, describes a society under the oppressive control of the government that prohibits free thought, sex and any expression of individuality. They have even invented a language called, Newspeak, which attempts to prevent political rebellion by eliminating any words relating to it. Even thinking rebellious thoughts is a crime and citizens are constantly reminded that, "Big brother is watching you!"
The description of this kind of society is unfortunately a frightening reality for my dear Iranian friend. For security reasons I will not mention her real name but for the sake of my blog, I will call her Zahra.
Zahra lives in Shiraz, Iran. She is divorced and has an eight-year old boy and is struggling to raise him as a single mom. We are good friends. Regularly, we meet on Skype and I spend time teaching her English in preparation for her exams at school.
Recently as we met on Skype, I asked Zahra to talk about freedom and tell me exactly what life is like in Iran.

"Iran is one big prison!"

Many of my Iranian friends have written short stories on the topic of Freedom and emailed them to me. I have featured their stories on my radio program and in my blogs.
However, in this case, I was able to interview my friend and to watch her facial expressions as she described her struggle for freedom in Iran. This was dramatically different than just receiving an email and it had an incredible, emotional impact on me.
Zahra rolled her eyes as she talked about the subject of freedom. You could see the pain and frustration in her eyes and her whole countenance changed to despair. She explained that Iran was "one big prison." 
Then suddenly her face beamed with hope as she looked me directly in the eyes and said, "I want to be free like a bird in the sky."

"Government chooses everything for us like a child!"

Zahra is not a practicing Muslim, but just in name only. Her biggest objection to the "Iranian way of life" is the government determining what you should believe.
"Religion is personal. The government doesn't have the right to tell you what to believe,"
 Zahra objected. .
 I could see the bitterness and frustration in her eyes. 
 Then she gazed intently into my eyes with a passionate stare.
"Government chooses everything for us like a child! We don't have the right to choose!"
 Zahra paused for a moment and gathered her thoughts. Then she boldly proclaimed,
 "Freedom is our right. It is God's gift to us!"
 I could not agree more. Iranians understand that freedom is a gift from God that has been stolen from them by a corrupt and power-hungry dictatorship.

"Be our voice for freedom!"

As our brief interview came to a conclusion, I informed Zahra that I would be having a book signing for my new publication in a few weeks and asked her what message I could give to my customers from her. A huge smile beamed across her face and without hesitation she immediately answered, "Tell them to please help us. We are prisoners here. Be our voice for freedom!"
I struggled to hold back the tears. I promised Zahra I would do this for her and all of her Iranian friends. I asked her to type for me what she said in Farsi and that I would make a poster of it and display at my book signing.

Loftan be ma komak konid
Ma inja zendani hastem
loftan sedaye ma bashid baraye azadi.

Please help us. We are prisoners here. Be our voice for freedom!"

Can you hear the desperate cries from Zahra's heart? It a very simple request and yet something you and I take way too much for granted everyday!
I intend to keep my promise to Zahra. She is a dear friend that I pray one day will be that bird flying free in the sky as she described during our interview.
There is a promise in Scripture that God indeed hears the desperate cries of Iranians. My prayer is that He will soon
answer their cries and give them the precious gift of freedom.

"He will rescue the poor when they cry to Him.
He will help the oppressed, who have no one to defend them.
He feels pity for the weak and needy, and He will rescue them.
He will redeem them from oppression and violence, for their lives are precious to Him."
     NLT....(Psalm 72:12-14)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

"How deep the deception!"

"We have allowed politics, position and power, 
 to rule our hearts instead of mercy.
 How deep the deception......."

In December of 2013, Naghmeh Abedini, wife of Saeed Abedini, currently in prison in Iran, testified before a special congressional committee in Washington and sadly declared, "I feel abandoned by my own government!" 
Just one month earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iran's foreign Minister Zarif in Geneva including several other nations and together they reached an agreement that would freeze part of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a relief in the sanctions.
 Amidst all of the political haggling back and forth and the constant attention paid to the media for "photo ops," both sides failed to address the more important issue, the forgotten and neglected issue of human rights. Saeed Abedini's name was not brought up once. Kerry failed to confront Iran and make Saeed's release as a "pre-condition" to any further discussions of the nuclear issue. Instead, Iran was promised a relief to any further sanctions and we shook hands with a nation that promotes terrorism and hates Israel.

"How deep the deception!

The Obama Administration has allowed politics, position and power to rule its hearts instead of mercy!
They have turned their backs on Saeed and the thousands of political prisoners in Iran fighting desperately for their lives every day! Since Rouhani took office last year, as the new president of Iran, more than 500 executions have been carried out! Before Rouhani took office, there was maybe 10 executions a month. Now there is more than 25 executions a day! That is astronomical!
Shiva Mahbobi, spokesperson for CFPPI (Campaign to Free Political Prisoners in Iran) in a recent meeting with European delegates, sadly explained that the Iranian Regime deliberately deprives prisoners of any medical supplies and then forces their families to pay for the cost of medication that they never receive! Many of the political prisoners are suffering from untreated diabetic and heart conditions and will eventually die unless they receive immediate medical treatment.
Recently Saeed Abedini was evaluated for his internal bleeding by a doctor who recommended surgery to treat his condition, but the Iranian Regime refuses to come to his aid.

"We can no longer stand by and be silent!"

I woke up this morning to a picture that horrified me and broke my heart. It was a picture of a young Iranian filming an execution on his cell phone in Qazvin. A crowd of people stood by and watched in despair as a lifeless man hung high above the earth at the end of a boom crane! 
Iran is a culture of death, a culture that forbids the exercise of human rights, a culture that prohibits free speech and any disagreements with their government. We sit down across the table with a government who is systematically on a daily basis, committing a slow genocide, a cleansing of political prisoners who dare to speak a word of disagreement. We reach across and shake hands with a government that wants to destroy Israel and wipe them off of the face of the map!
We can no longer stand by and watch and be silent! We have a responsibility to the citizens of Iran to show mercy and compassion. Our silence is an endorsement that what they are doing everyday is acceptable! We have exchanged nuclear rights for human rights!
One one occasion, Jesus was asked by an expert in religious law, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
 Jesus quickly responded, "You must love the lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your strength and all of your mind and, love your neighbor as yourself." The teacher was perplexed and asked, "Who is my neighbor?"
 Jesus then told the story, a famous parable of the Good Samaritan. He  explained that a Jewish man from Jericho was attacked by robbers and left for dead. A priest came along and saw the man but crossed to the other side of the road. A temple assistant walked over and observed the wounded man but instead of helping him went on his way. However a despised Samaritan arrived on the scene and was moved with compassion. He put the man on his donkey and took him to a local inn and paid the innkeeper to take care of him.
Jesus then gazed into the teachers eyes and posed the important question, "Which of
 the three would you say was a neighbor to this man?"
 The teacher replied, "The one who showed mercy!"
Jesus commended the teacher for his excellent answer and admonished him to "go and do the same."

 "The one who showed mercy!"
That is the correct answer. The teacher was right! Mercy rather politics! How deep the deception. If we claim to love Jesus than we must love Iranians or else our claim is bogus!
Political prisoners are suffering everyday in deplorable conditions, crying out for mercy!
Like the Good Samaritan, we must respond with compassion and mercy. We must speak out, sign petitions and pray for these hopeless prisoners.
God desires our mercy rather than our politics.

"He has shown you O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly before your God."
                                   (Micah 6:8)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Survivors of the Revolution: Shabnam's Story

"I did not think that a simple conversation, having an opinion and simply expressing it,
 would put my life in danger..."

"I was just 13 when Khomeini came into power....."

This is how Shabnam Assadollahi begins her story as a young teenager living in Tehran, when suddenly her whole world was turned upside down.
 February 1, 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini arrived in Tehran, flying in from Iraq on a jumbo 747, greeted by millions of protesters who had successfully caused the Shah to go into exile. A new era, a new age had begun in Iran. A new Islamic state had just been birthed.
For millions of Iranians, their lives would never be the same again. Khomeini's revolutionary guards and morality police would now be in full control of their lives.
Shabnam writes:

  "Overnight all women, including elementary school girls, were forced to cover their bodies from head to toe and were ordered to only wear dark colors. We were no longer allowed to attend school with the opposite sex. Our once praised school curriculum was now replaced by Arabic, Islamic studies and the Quran...."

Freedom of speech became a "thing of the past." If you disagreed with the new regime, you risked being arrested and never seeing your parents again. Yet Shabnam could not keep her views to herself. She experienced an "awakening" and felt compelled to speak her mind about the so called new rules and values being imposed on her and all of her classmates.
Eventually, the new regime arrived on her doorstep in order to silence her and at the age of 16, just three years into Khomeini's reign, The Revolutionary Guard arrested Shabnam  and took her away to the notorious hell hole known as Evin Prison.

"I did not think that a simple conversation, having an opinion and simply expressing it, would put my life in danger..."

Shabnam's teenage years had been rudely interrupted and transformed into a nightmare! She was now a prisoner of Khomeini in Evin Prison where the new regime was executing young teenagers on a daily basis in front of a firing squad.
Yet, ironically, Shabnam's interrogator took pity on her and spared her from the torture chamber. Instead she was left outside every day, blindfolded, cold and hungry.
 Even though she had been physically spared from the grueling torture, Shabnam recalls the agony of listening to the desperate cries of prisoners, begging and screaming for their deaths, rather than suffering for another minute!

"At Night I would count around 60-70 bullets which meant 60-70 souls had been executed and I was hearing the last shot they would give the victim in the head..."

Finally after spending 18 horrifying months in Evin Prison, Shabnam was released. She was determined to find out why she had been imprisoned and why so many of her friends had been senselessly murdered. She discovered that this new regime demanded absolute compliance or else death. If teenagers were caught with books or leaflets in their possession that disagreed with the new government, they would be arrested and executed. Democracy and freedom of speech under the Shah had been replaced by
an intolerant regime that ushered in a dictatorship. Women were now second class citizens with a new dress code. The wearing of hijabs was the new law that had once been banned under the Pahlavi dynasty. The sexes were segregated and young girls, some at the tender, innocent age of 9 years old were now forced into marriages.

Even before the new regime, Shabnam had hated God. In her mind there was no God, he didn't exist. Shabnam recalls that shortly before the revolution, while in Turkey, her and her family were visited by Christian missionaries. Although she was resistant to their message of God's love, she remembers watching a film they brought about  the life of Jesus. During the movie, Shabnam watched Jesus dying on the cross and deep down inside was touched by his act of his sacrificial love. Yet she continued to resist.
Then she begin having dreams about a man on a white horse. She mentioned this to her friend and her friend replied that God was reaching out to her and calling her.
Her friend began to diligently pray and fast for her and after many other dreams, questions and searching, Shabnam finally surrendered her heart to Christ.
The young rebellious, outspoken teenage girl had found her ultimate purpose in life! Now she knew why her life

had been spared from torture and rape in Evin Prison. God had a calling and purpose on Shabnam's life!
Today Shabnam is married and lives in Canada with her husband. She has went from a rebellious teenager to a powerful advocate for human rights. For many years she produced children's programs with Transworld Radio Canada and today helps newcomers and refugees, particularly women, resettle in Canada.
Shabnam has been recognized by the Canadian parliament as a courageous and outstanding promoter of human rights. She has not forgotten her horrifying experience in Evin Prison. She continues to speak out and be a voice for Iranians today who are suffering under an oppressive government. Not much has changed in Iran but Shabnam has changed! She has dedicated her life to speaking out against the gross and unjust violation of human rights in Iran.
She is a true survivor of the Revolution and 35 years later is still fighting passionately for human rights.
Shabnam writes:

"The truth about the Islamic Republic needs to reach the ears and hearts of the world, for knowledge is the vessel of constructive change..."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower
 leaves on the heel of the one that crushed it."

                       Author unknown


Forgive is one of those words that causes us to cringe. We want to run away and hide instead of facing the reality of that word.


"Forgive? What! Me forgive! You don't understand how hurt I am!"
 "I can never forgive what that monster did to my child!"

 Bitterness, anger, rage, uncontrollable emotions..This is the vicious cycle we go through in dealing with this emotional issue. Betrayal..scarred emotions..the death of a loved one..are just some of the many situations that make forgiveness seem like an impossible command to obey. Forgiveness is the last thing on one's mind when they have been betrayed, insulted, hurt and pushed to an emotional meltdown.

Just two weeks ago, I came across a heartbreaking story on the internet that has had a lasting emotional impact on my life. It was the story of a 27 year-old Iranian girl named Sanaz Nezami, who was brutally beaten and left for brain dead by her husband. Unable to travel to the United States to be with their daughter in her final hours, Sanaz's parents had to watch her die via a computer link up in her hospital room. Inspite of the horror and evil done to their precious daughter, they agreed to have her vital organs transplanted to save the lives of seven other Americans.
The story of Sanaz has had an incredible impact on not only me but also millions of people all over the world. It's the story of a "silver lining, a beauty from the ashes," something good coming out of a dark and difficult tragedy. My last blog was a tribute to the character and passion of Sanaz, a beautiful, intelligent Iranian girl who came to my country for a life of freedom and success.
However, every time I would see a picture of her husband Nima, I was filled with anger and bitterness. I wanted him to be justly punished for the senseless killing of this beautiful, innocent girl! How could he do this to her? Why did he do it?
The feelings and emotions haunted me day and night and became obsessive to the point that it was interfering with my daily work routine, until last night....
Last night I saw a picture of Nima with his lawyer appearing before a judge. I gazed at the picture, mocking and ridiculing him because of height and scraggly looking hair and then suddenly, my heart was convicted. Instead of bitterness, I was flooded with feelings of sorrow and compassion. I could hear the still, small voice inside of me saying,  FORGIVE.

It is amazing how the Lord is able to get our attention. Right in the middle of my job, at the trash compactor, gazing at this picture on my cell phone, the Lord convicted me of my bitterness and self-righteousness, by reminding me of the one command that all of us as Christians struggle with from time to time...FORGIVE...
 Jesus taught his disciples to "Love their pray for those who persecute them."
Forgiveness is not an option..It's a command. Most of the time we allow our emotions to control and distort this clear command.
Standing at the trash compactor, gazing at the cell phone, the Lord reminded me that I have been forgiven a great debt, all of my sins have been erased and cleansed by his mercy and love. Because of that, I need to extend my mercy, love and forgiveness even to the most vilest and wicked of people.
As I gazed at Nima standing in the courtroom, I pictured the Judge saying to him, "You are guilty Nima. You have taken the life of another human being. You will spend the rest of your life behind bars and never see the light of day again.."
Then after the just verdict was rendered, I could picture the judge, stepping down from his "pulpit" and removing his judicial robes and embracing Nima with undeserved mercy and grace.
That is exactly what our Savior and Lord Jesus did for all of us, The just Judge of the universe stepped down from his royal seat in heaven and set aside his rights and privileges and became a humble servant. Jesus was perfect, sinless and completely innocent and yet he allowed himself to be treated as a criminal and die on a cross in order for all of our sins to be forgiven. 
Jesus prayed for his executioners while suffering on the cross, crying out, "Father forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)
Mercy and forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. It is what distinguishes Christianity from all of the other world religions. Christianity is not a religion like all of the rest, but a real love relationship with God through Christ.
A perfect example of what real forgiveness looks like is the powerful story of the Amish community. In 2006, Charles Roberts barricaded himself inside of an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, tied up ten girls and opened fire, killing five and injuring five others before committing suicide.
Devastated and heartbroken, the small Amish community gathered together in mourning, but shocked the media and the world when they chose to forgive the killer, even to the extent of attending his funeral and embracing his family.
This is what real forgiveness looks like. Instead of allowing bitterness and rage keeping their souls in bondage for the rest of their life, the Amish community instead reached out with the love and forgiveness as taught to them by Jesus.

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one that crushed it."

How true! The crushed rose, the crushed flower, leaves a beautiful fragrance inspite of being trampled upon. That should be the response of every Christian! Grace and mercy, instead of hatred and anger! Unfortunately that was was not my first response, but it doesn't change the fact that it should have been...

"Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."      
                                    (Ephesians 5:32)

Wait. There is one more beautiful "twist" to my journey toward forgiveness. After my experience I looked up the meaning of Sanaz's name on the internet. I was astonished to find that the name Sanaz in Persian means, "full of grace."
Wow! That revelation brought tears to my eyes. After reflecting for a moment, I realized that The meaning of her name is really not surprising. Sanaz was a compassionate and giving person. She truly lived up to her name. In fact I'm convinced that she would have wanted all of us to forgive Nima for what he did.
Sanaz was that crushed flower that has left a fragrance on all of our lives. That is why I can forgive!